Succession Planning in an Era of Unprecedented Shortage

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Written by Steve Hawley, Principal, Lake Orion High School and MASSP Region 12 Representative.

The conversation around the current educator shortage brings ample debate as to the causes creating the unprecedented shallowing of the pool of certified teachers in the State of Michigan and beyond. Nevertheless, school districts are left with the ever-increasing, difficult task of not only filling vacant teaching positions, but also adequately planning to fill the leadership positions within their schools as they become available.

I recently read an article that stated that a primary method to invest in human capital is to develop a succession plan, which simultaneously builds a list of qualified leadership candidates while anticipating district needs before they become urgent.1 While this makes great sense, the rate of recent turnover in many administrative positions within education has made adherence to a cohesive, strategic plan very difficult. Although this may be the case, it is incumbent upon educational leaders today to plan for this extremely import task, especially in an era of great educator shortage.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many outstanding leaders who took the responsibility of staffing leadership positions very seriously, and their school districts became the direct beneficiaries of their efforts to appropriately plan for the future. Interestingly, this benefit was often realized long after they were gone. I cannot think of a better legacy for a true leader to bestow upon their school district and community than to have successful, driven, and knowledgeable people in positions of leadership after their departure.

I have witnessed quality succession planning in action, and the most successful plans aspire to several key elements.2 These elements included the following:

  • Clearly defining qualification standards for leadership candidates.
  • Creating a deeper candidate pool of qualified successors by identifying potential leadership candidates and providing incremental leadership opportunities for those individuals.
  • Providing coaching and/or mentoring program opportunities to aspiring leadership candidates.
  • Overlapping transition periods to ensure continuity and support of a new administrator.

Through similar succession planning efforts, school districts can minimize reactionary hiring practices that often lead to administrative turnover. These efforts ultimately help to create schools that are more unified and successful in meeting the diverse and dynamic needs of our students today.